Meet Maxim Usik: A Freelance Illustrator

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Nov 19, 2021 •  Interviews

Maxim Usik is a freelance illustrator originally from Saint Petersburg, Russia, who has lived in many countries across the world. He is known for his style of clear editorial illustrations marked by humor, details, and wit.

“… Focus on your work, focus on finding the joy in what you are doing. Don’t look for quick results and remove your expectations

Artwork by Maxim Usik

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Can you please tell us a bit about your background? Please add at least one random interesting fact about you.

My name is Maxim Usik, I have been working as a professional illustrator since 2012.

I do beautiful and clear editorial illustrations marked by humor, details, and wit. My clients are top magazines (from Europe, Asia, and the USA) from the economy, business, science, and lifestyle sectors.

Originally from Russia, I moved to Finland to study at University at the age of 17. Since that, I have never lived permanently in Russia but in many other countries across the globe.

Random facts about me:

What inspired you to make art?

My father is a traditional visual artist, painter, and he always was the greatest example and source of inspiration for me.

At home we had many art books and paintings on the walls, so reading and looking through those books really inspired me to start drawing.

I grew up in Saint Petersburg, a city that is famous for its infinite number of art museums. My mom loved museums and so every weekend she took us to some exhibition or art museum.

Since the beginning, I knew I didn’t want to become just a ‘traditional visual artist’ who let’s say draws portraits or nature. I want to do art combined with communication and message.

Did you study at art school(s) or are you self-taught?

At age around 7-8, I told my parents I want to go to study art so they took me to the art school.

I also studied communication arts in college and Visual Arts at University and I truly believe the best way to become an artist is a self-study combined with some official studies. This is the best!

Aha moment was when I realized I could be much more successful if I do unique art with an expression of myself.

Artwork by Maxim Usik

How did you develop your own art style? Where do you go for inspiration? How do you keep your creativity flowing?

I think for devolving your style you need to combine these things: draw a lot of what you want, look at a lot of other artists and start to copy some of their style elements (at the very beginning it even could be a copy).

But be careful to not copy just blindly, try to analyse what you like in their style and implement it in your works, accept your singularity and embrace it, start to enjoy your unique way of viewing things (this is the most difficult part).

How did you start making a living as an artist? What was your first paid art job?

In 2009, I had been working as a graphic designer for some years and I abandoned my drawing practice completely. I thought I didn’t really need it anymore.

At some point, though, I realized I was not happy with my work life. I didn’t feel like expressing myself, and I didn’t feel I am progressing anywhere. It was like a crisis.

So I started to think about what else can I do for a living. Then I recalled that I use to be an artist. So maybe I can do something out of it… So I started to draw again.

During 2009-2012 I worked like crazy. I still had my graphic design job (which occupied most of my daytime) but I clearly wanted to get rid of it. So I used EVERY free moment of my time to draw. I drew during weekends, holidays, nights, and evenings. Thank goodness my wife supported me during that time!

I sent my portfolio to all possible agencies and magazines. Without success. Nothing happened for a year or so. Then suddenly I started to get my first commissions mostly from my friends.

And then there came a great moment I still remember. I got an email from a very famous Finnish magazine with an offer to make a spot illustration for them. Only one. The budget was something like 120 euros. But for me, it was the best day of my life. I was jumping out of happiness :). Later on, this commission turned into a weekly half-page illustration and I worked with them for 7 or 8 years!!

Another year passed and I started to have enough work to finish with my graphic designer job which I did immediately. My boss couldn’t believe I am leaving the agency … he was shocked!

What do you live from as an artist now? What are your main income streams and what is the approximate % split of each?

I live 100% on my income from illustration work. I do 90% editorial and book illustrations. The rest is advertisements and some project illustrations. I work with an agent who brings me clients but I also have my so-called in-house clients.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I am working on an illustration project for Finnish McDonald’s, illustrations for the Swedish language school books, and illustration set from one lifestyle magazine

What do you think are the most important characteristics of an artist?

Artwork by Maxim Usik

What are the art tools and other products and services you can’t live without?

My laptop, Photoshop, scanner, ink pens, light table, Wacom Tablet. I am also using iCloud Drive to store files and Google Drive to store archive files and my emails. My YouTube and Spotify subscriptions keep me company throughout long working days.

What advice would you give yourself as a beginner artist? Or alternatively please include your favorite quote and the author.

I think that would be: Focus on your work, focus on finding the joy in what you are doing. Don’t look for quick results and remove your expectations. Don’t waste your energy into comparing yourself with others, everyone has his own unique path and that path will be different for each one of us. There is no pattern of success. The only rule is to love what you are doing.

Picasso: “Dont love yourself in World of Art but rather love The Art inside of you.”

Bhagavat Gita (holy scripture): “You have right to act, but not to the fruits (gains, rewards, fame, glory, money, etc) of the action. Do not allow rewards to be your motive for action, at the same time do not be attached to avoiding action.”

Get in touch with Maxim

Thank you, Maxim, for joining us today!

All artworks by Maxim Usik, used with permission.

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Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.